Are tattoo needles contributing to allergic reactions in tattoos?

If you’ve been in the tattoo industry long enough you’ve probably come across a client that’s had an allergic reaction to tattoo ink, whether one of your own clients or someone else’s.

Up until now it’s been widely assumed that ingredients in the ink have caused the reaction in the skin, high levels of chromium or nickel or perhaps increased levels or another chemical may have reacted with the clients skin.

New research suggests that tattoo needle wear can result in nano sized particles being deposited in the skin and eventually find their way into the lymph nodes. Tattoo needles generally contain nickel and chromium in their composition and particles coming from the wear of the needles could be playing a part in resulting allergic reactions as they are both known (nickel and chromium) to be skin sensitisers.

wear significantly increased upon tattooing with the suspected abrasive titanium dioxide white when compared to carbon black pigment. Additionally, scanning electron microscopy of the tattoo needle revealed a high wear after tattooing with ink containing titanium dioxide. The investigation of a skin biopsy obtained from a nickel sensitized patient with type IV allergy toward a tattoo showed both wear particles and iron pigments contaminated with nickel.

The role tattoo inks plays in allergic reactions hasn’t really been fully addressed and still needs addressing so that we better understand it, for tattooists, finding out that tattoo needles might be a contributing factor makes things a whole lot more difficult to figure out.

I asked Innes Schriever (a contributor to the report) what needles and inks were used in the tests but that information was unavailable. She was however able to note that when using rotaries they used only cartridges and for coil machines they used plastic tips which rules out the wear of the needles on or against metal tips.

It will be interesting to see how or if needle manufacturers react to these findings and what changes they might make to needles if they’re able to make any at all.

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you can read the full report Distribution of nickel and chromium containing particles from tattoo needle wear in humans and its possible impact on allergic reactions at the link below.